Thoroughly Alive

We must hunger after the beautiful and the good...



Sorry for the hiatus. This was one of those weeks when I had two or three great thoughts looming like storms in my mind, but no time to chase them to the point of articulation. Just when I thought I might, I got jury duty. Yes, one of those weeks. Even now, I find that these ideas in my head are turning out to be whole countries that I will need to traverse and explore before I can describe them well. Things like how modern culture came to be, the importance of nature in sustaining faith, and, not least, what to do with my life. I think I have my self-made writing assignment for the fall. For now though, as I'm still a little befuddled from life, I'll simply tell you some of the things that sparked the thoughts.

I had a night alone last week, and decided I wanted the company of field and sky. I found my usual trail around my favorite sapphire of a lake crammed with teenage boys all riled up for a track meet. This, I knew, was not the soulfulness for which I searched, so I hied me out instead to a nearby "greenspace," a protected tract of land between the highway and the mountains. I don't usually walk there because it is so exposed; pure plains. But a broken up storm lingered in the sky and the sun was sinking fast away and shooting light straight up from the black mountain line so that the clouds blazed and dappled. The first fall of dusk was already on the ground as I began to walk, but the gold of day still lingered in the plants so that all the colors lurking in the yellowed fields woke and blinked and breathed to life.

I was stunned. To walk that gravelly undulation of a road as it snaked between the fields was to walk amidst scattered gems. I could not count the colors. Amethyst flowers starred a sea of wild wheat, the stalks tawny, the grain palest gold with the light filtered through. Emerald-leaved somethings in a calligraphic twirl of branches, wild grass burnt that deep crimson that burns in the last embers of a bonfire. Rosehips, mauve and red in their nest of tiny, razor-edged leaves. Vines etching green teardrops down the gravel, and all of it framed by far-off hills in sheeny green, mountains dark and old behind, and the sky a bowl of pellucid blue with storm rippling through it, the clouds edged in saffron by the dying sun.

Step and step, my stride was rhythm and breath put back in me when I hadn't known I wasn't breathing. Life rose up from my very heart, kindled by the fresh, unfettered air of that open place. I've been indoors a lot these days, working, wrangling through the sorts of decisions that shape one's future. And in the midst of it all, I have often felt my heart feeling around me for God, and coming up empty. Until my walk. In the damp, growing spectacle of color and the touch of sky, like a cool hand on my fevered head, I felt God and I wanted to cry out loud, "I see you God, I see." Because finally, I did. I couldn't be in the field and not notice him.

I think our hearts were meant to be rooted in the earth God has made. I think we were supposed to be daily immersed in the million tangible, intricate creations of a good God, and that nature was supposed to make him unmistakably clear to us. Now though, we are more and more separated from natural things by the whiz of cars and concrete, by houses made of all manmade substances and set far away from anything natural, by the time all of us have to spend in the weird world of screens. Yet throughout Scripture, God refers to himself as the "Maker of Heaven and Earth." When he must evidence his power or kindness or ability to save, to what does he point us? Stars and the running of the sun and the seasons that bring growth from the earth. How did God answer Job? He merely described the beauty and courses of nature and that was, in God's mind, enough to answer the ultimate questions of suffering. David said "taste and see that God is good," and I think he meant it literally.

Open your eyes and go outside. The artistry and abundance you will find in the earth will give you a flesh and blood and leaf and dirt and blue sky way to grasp the goodness of God. And with it comes the means by which you can cling to his goodness, even when circumstances seem void of it. I have a lot of questions for God right now, unanswered prayers, and when I am sitting in my study trying to trust, they can seem like enough to make me question my faith. But when I go outside, like Job, I want to repent and take back my words and say that I have involved myself in matters too great for me. Because the beauty I see in the earth, in the sky and mountains, is so great, so enduring, I cannot doubt that the God who made it will make and keep my own life, and fill me with a springtime of living soon.

Of course I love home and indoors and I have to live in the modern world. But I think it is all too easy to drift very far away from the glorious spectacle of nature. I think the wild sky and mountains, and all the trees and fields are God's living presentation of his beauty to us, even here in the fallen world. The earth is broken too, of course nature bears the mark of sin just like we do, but there is a beauty that speaks of what lies before and beyond the brokenness. And as I realize this, I see that this is another one of those truths that makes me question, how in the world did we get separated from the earth? Our ancestors lived much more present to nature and seasons and stars than we did. And however grand the modern, technological world, if it loses us the inheritance of God's good earth, is it worth it?

I realize I'm sounding a bit of a tree-hugger here, but I merely want to be a beauty lover and I want to keep my heart loyal to God. My thoughts of late have led me to question what we moderns are losing. What ancient, deep beauties - things meant to tie us to God, to hope, to each other - have we lost to hurry and technology? Nature is only one of the things I feel we are losing in modern times. The others would be community, family, local and life-long friendships, sacred spaces, and yes, a bit of earth to love. I guess I was shocked by the life that came back to me in one little taste of God's earth. It makes me hungry to question, to push away what separates me from the One I love, and grasp his life as firmly as I can. The lovely thing is, I think he made his soul to be touched and tasted.

More mullings to come.